No Shades of Gray

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When I was a young(er) woman, I often used my great-grandparents as my mental guides.

Hazel and Clifford were a wonderful, happy part of my childhood.  They lived on the family farm where Grandpa’s own Great-Grandparent’s had lived.  To me, it seemed like they had been there forever, almost like characters out of a fairytale.  Great-Grandma was a tiny, little woman who always wore a dress, old-fashioned lace-up boots, and a smile.  She taught me how to gather eggs.  I can see her bending down before me, the bun in her hair streaked with gray.  She may have been old, but her eyes were youthful and sparkled with merriment. Continue Reading »

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Orphan

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“As T and I sat on each side of her bed, we talked quietly of the other deaths we have witnessed together.  There have been too many.  I looked at him and I thought, “One of us will be here in a bed like this while the other sits in a chair holding a hand.”  Just as I had that thought, my mom opened her eyes.  It was the first time all night that she was aware of our presence in her room.  She turned her head and  looked at T.  A big smile lit up her face.  She reached for his hand and said, “You are a good man.”

She asked him where I was, and he said, “Right here by your side,” and he gently turned her head.  She said, “I love you,” and reached for my hand.  It all only lasted a moment and she was asleep once more.  There was no more conversation or consciousness.

T and I sat there on each side of the bed holding her hand.  This mother who caused me grief, strife, and years of conflict held onto our hands, the three of us connected.  Forgiveness should not be something that is given lightly, freely, or without justification.  Forgiveness is earned.  Tonight, I forgave my mom huge, vast quantities of past injuries.  She confirmed the one thing I know to be true.  T IS a good man.”

I wrote those words a little over a week ago.  I was writing them during the final moments of my mother’s life, perhaps I wrote them even as she died.  That late night/early morning I sat alone in the living room cuddled under a blanket with my feet propped up on the coffee table and my laptop warming my lap.  I needed to write so that I would not forget those peaceful, touching moments.  I didn’t know that they would be our last moments together.  I knew the end was very near, but I thought she might make it through another day.

That night, I finished writing, shut down my computer, and headed up the stairs to get ready for bed.  Only moment later, my phone rang.  It was 1:30 a.m.  A nurse was calling to tell me that my mother had passed.  She had been alive at midnight when the nurse had checked on her, but now she was gone.  I was naked when I received that call, stripped bare and standing in the bathroom.  I stood there holding the phone, and my first thought was how ironic it was that I was nude.

I didn’t know what to do next.  The nurse wondered what funeral home we were going to use.  She wanted a phone number.  She said that they needed to make arrangements for “the body.”  I was naked, standing in the bathroom.  It was 1:30 a.m.!  I didn’t necessarily carry that kind of information around with me.  I wrapped myself in a towel, woke up T, fired up the computer and began making calls.  The ball was set in motion.  There were an amazing amount of details, arrangements, and phone calls to make.

This past week has been exhausting.  I was still borderline sick.  T ended up getting sick, and Lola woke up on Thursday with a 102 degree fever.  We have had a funeral, cleaned out an apartment, and had a son home for the weekend.  It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions.  There have been wonderful visits with family that I haven’t seen in years.  Our friends have been kind, caring, and supportive.  I love my friends who instead of bringing casseroles brought the ingredients for chocolate martinis.  In the midst of pain, there was laughter, friendship, and love.

This weekend is the first time in two years that I haven’t been drawn to visit a hospital or an assisted living facility.  I tried to see Mom on most weekends.  On the weekends when I wasn’t able to make it to visit her, I felt a weight of guilt.  This weekend has been the first time in over two years that I have been able to choose without conflicting feelings the activities I engaged in.  Still, it has not been a great weekend.  I am drained and exhausted.  My emotions are fragile as hell.  I looked at a tree today, and it brought back a memory that made me cry.

These past two-plus years have been terrible.  There is no other way to describe them.  It all began in December 2009 when I lost the person I thought was my best friend.  By choice, this person turned away, ran away, changed paths.  However you’d like to phrase it, this person who meant so very much to me, decided that I didn’t really mean that much to them.  A handful of days later, I lost my dear, dear father.  Losing Dad left me with the sole responsibility of my very sick mother.  Eventually, I was called upon to support her through the withdrawal of treatment and the weeks leading to her death.  Two years of senseless hell.  At times, it has felt like I have been trapped in my life, and there was no way out, nowhere to turn.  At times, I have crumbled and fallen apart, but for the most part I have just dealt with the circumstances.  Like a drone, I have learned to deal with what life threw my way.  I coped as best I knew how.  I trudged through the days, the weeks, the months, and it all added up to two-plus years.

In the sadness of this past week, there have been moments where HOPE has popped through like bright sunshine.  I can take a trip now without feeling guilty.  I will have a summer of working in my yard on the weekends instead of running to the hospital.  Little by little, I am beginning to see that I have a chance to reclaim my life.  T and I are talking about a short trip to Vegas or to a beach sometime soon.  I’m planning a trip this spring to visit a friend in Georgia.  We will be able to have moments of doing NOTHING, and not feeling like we should be doing SOMETHING.

The apartment is empty.  Now it is time to turn our attention to the house.  We need to sort through the rest of my parents’ belongings.  We’ll keep a few things that have sentimental value, but most of it will go on an auction in a month or so.  This afternoon, I went to the house alone.  I haven’t been there in weeks, and it was the first time to stand in my childhood home knowing that BOTH of my parents are dead.  It hit me hard.  I have no one left who shares my memories.  I went from room to room, and the memories were vivid.  I saw things.  I saw my parents as they were years ago.  I saw a little girl and her little black dog.  I remembered where the piano once stood, and the Christmas tree, and where Dad sat to drink his morning coffee.  I remembered addressing my wedding invitations as I sat on the floor of the living room.  I remembered my own now-grown children coloring at the little table in the sunroom.  Where did my life go?  Where did my family go?  I wandered from room to room, and I felt like an orphan.  I cried and cried.  I finally let it all out.  Two years of loss and pain.

I couldn’t stop crying until I walked into my dad’s room.  I stood in his closet and put my arms around the one special shirt of Dad’s that I had saved.  It was just a silly polo.  I had bought it for Luke, but he hadn’t liked it.  Grandpa liked it, though, so Luke told him to he could have it.  It cracked the boys up to see Grandpa wearing a purple American Eagle shirt, but I think that made Grandpa love it even more.  I stood there looking at that purple polo alone in the closet.  I put my hand out and touched the fabric.  My dad had been here.  He had been real, wonderful, and loving.  Oh, how I miss him!  As I stood there, I felt his love.  Yes, lives are too short, but the love lives on and on.

 

 

The Walk on the Farm

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There is so much that I no longer understand about the world.  I’m not sure what happened.  It seems that most of my life, I had certain things in place.  For years and years, the pillars of my foundation surrounded me, grounded me, protected and guided me.  For many years, my life was very much based on the examples of my past and the people who held great influence over me.  My great-grandparents and my grandparents were sturdy, sensible people.  They cared for their land, their families, their church, and their God.  The did nothing to excess.  I would not think that I am not wrong in assuming that when their heads hit the pillows each night, they did not begin to wrestle with their personal demons, but instead, they drifted off to sleep imagining the chores of farm-life that would await them the next day.

My great-grandparents raised three fine children in the big stone farmhouse.  There was a well pump in the kitchen with a tin cup for all to drink from the cold icy water.  You could see the little hen house from the kitchen window, and Grandma would take her towel-lined basket out each morning to collect the eggs.  Look a little to the left, and you would see the horses standing by the barnyard fence waiting from Great Grandpa to come feed them.  Beyond that was the hog lot, a field for the cows, and rows and rows of sparkling cornfields.  More often than not, there would be a tall chocolate cake waiting under a glass dome on the sideboard.

On the day of Great Grandma’s funeral, I walked the path from the church back to the big stone house holding Great Grandpa’s hand.  He had sought me out.  He asked me to leave with him.  I wasn’t much older than Lola at the time.  It was after the funeral, and everyone had gathered in the church parlor for the funeral luncheon.  Great Grandpa told me that he couldn’t stand to see them all visiting as if it were just any old day.  He had lost the love of his life.  He wanted to mourn, not pretend that everything would be OK.  It was then that I realized that it was sometimes OK for everything NOT to be OK.

We walked silently along until we reached the edge of the fields.  There was a fence with a large swinging wooden gate.  Most times it was closed and would have to be swung open to let the tractor and wagons  into the field.  Sometimes the cows were in this field.  On this day, however, the gate stood open.  Bright spots of green were just beginning to poke through the early spring soil.  He took me through the gate to where a lush patch of clover was growing.  We stopped and  he stood looking down at the cushion of clover while he told me how much Great Grandma had loved this particular spot on the farm.  He said she would come down here and sit like a girl among  the clover looking for a lucky four-leafed clover.  His blue eyes twinkled and his face crinkled into a smile as he remembered.  She had found many lucky clovers on her years here on the farm.  He took me back to the house and showed me a bible where hundreds of lucky clovers had been pressed between the pages.

Great Grandpa and I wandered all over the farm that afternoon.  He had not told anyone that he was leaving the church or that he was taking me with him.  My dad and my grandpa spent some time looking for us, and I will always remember the look of relief mixed with curiosity when my dad finally found us.  He didn’t say much, didn’t ask questions, he simply joined Great Grandpa and I on our walk around the family farm.  I can still remember the warmth I felt standing between those two men.

The memory of that day is one of the happiest, saddest, and strongest memories of my life.  Great Grandpa passed something down to me that day.  I felt the strength of his love and the importance of remembering those we have lost.  We may lose the person who dwelled by our side on this earth, but we never lose the memories of the love we shared.  Now these people are all gone from my life.  Great Grandpa lays by his wife’s side.  My Grandparents are on the hill below their feet.  Dad lies next to them all.  The strength of their guiding influence still resonates strongly through my life, but all too often, I feel that I have let them down.  The family potion of strength, courage, and integrity seems to have been watered down in me.  While my great grandparents were a hardy stout, most times, I feel more like a tepid weak lemonade.  That is what I am working on.  I need to become a better me not only to honor the memory and strength of those who have come before me, but so that someday, I will be able to pass this along to those who follow in my footsteps.

I’m not sure why I am remembering all of this today.  Maybe it’s because I am watching my own children as they begin to take steps down their own paths, paths that they have chosen for themselves.  I feel a sense of pride and wonder as I watch them forging their own lives.  I look at T and I marvel at all we have faced, and conquered, together.  I see the age in his face and wonder where the boy I once knew has gone.  I look in the mirror, and I know he must see the same thing.  I feel old, and proud, and sad, and elated all mixed together.  I feel the baton being passed, and it feels heavy in my hand.  This is no longer Great Grandpa’s family, or Grandpa’s, or Dad’s, it is now mine.  It all happened in the blink of an eye.  Once here, and now they are gone.  Once young, and now I am getting old.  Once children, and now adults.

Inside, I don’t feel much different now than I did as that little girl in the pink dress and black patent leather shoes holding her Great Grandpa’s hand.  I trusted where he led.  He was the guide, and I followed.  Now it is up to me.  There is no guide for this part of my life  – only the lessons I’ve been taught and the love I have been so generously given.